At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the time has once again come to talk about the Gunners’ defensive problems. Whilst Unai Emery deserves some credit for assembling a front line which looks fairly potent (on paper, at least), the defensive problems that have plagued the team since the halcyon days of Cole, Campbell, Toure and Lauren are still as much of a concern as ever. And after the Liverpool defeat, it appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg. After just over a year in charge of the team, how much blame can be laid at the door of Emery? And what can the Spaniard do to turn the team back into genuine title contenders once again?
All the right money in all the wrong places
Lucrative sponsorship deals with, Fly Emirates, Visit Rwanda and Puma (as well as astronomical ticket prices) have made Arsenal one of the most financially viable clubs in Europe. Over the last 5 or so years, the owners have indeed decided to dip their hands into their pockets whilst simultaneously increasing the maximum wage structure. And they should be applauded for this. However, as good as players such as Nicolas Pepe could be for the club, Arsenal are once again prioritising the wrong positions within the squad.
In order to build a successful team, the spine of the team needs to be solid – that is, a quality keeper, a mammoth centre back and a tough-tackling, all-action midfielder. Could summer acquisition, William Saliba, be the defender Arsenal needs? The short answer is that we don’t know and at 18, it seems we will have to wait a while to find out, whereas, a solution is needed now to fix the defence. In terms of the tough-tackling midfielder, Lucas Torreira has the ability to fill that role, although he is yet to fully convince Emery as he hasn’t started a match this season.
The David Luiz Show
When Arsenal signed David Luiz earlier in the month for around £8 million, some neutral onlookers remarked that it was one of the bargains of the century. The thing about the term “bargain” however, is that a purchase can only be deemed such if it’s something that you require. Arsenal (and no other club with any ambition for that matter) have ever needed David Luiz in their back four. Whilst the Brazilian may be exceptionally good with the ball at his feet, the Gunners have enough of those players in the squad. First and foremost, a defender needs to be able to defend and Luiz’s decision-making lets him down far too often.
True to form, Luiz was back up to his old tricks just last week and was at fault for two goals in the game against Liverpool. The fact that the defender has a four-minute-long fan-made Youtube video of his performance against Germany with the description, “One of the worst individual performances of all time” speaks volumes. Whilst we’re on the subject when was the last time Arsenal signed a recognised, world-class defender? Precisely.
Shooting on sight
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal grew into one of the most frustrating teams to watch on the planet. When things were going right, the brand of football that the Frenchman employed was second to none aesthetically. However, when the chips were down, the team’s refusal to shoot in and around the penalty area had even the most patient Gunners’ fans tearing their hair out. And this doesn’t look to have improved under Emery. Arsenal were outshot 24 to 7 against Liverpool, 11 to 8 by Newcastle and had 15 shots to Burnley’s 18.
Consider that Manchester City on average tend to outshoot their opponents by at least 10 and you can see why they score so many goals. Due to the attacking prowess of their offensive players, Arsenal will always score goals but you can’t help but feel that “having a pop” every now and again will benefit their goals for tally in the long run.
The task facing Unai Emery this season
Although we are only a few games into the Premier League season, Arsenal are already 50/1 to win the Premier League as of 28th August. Whilst everyone is well aware that there’s more chance of Alexis Sanchez coming back to the club than that happening, something has gone badly wrong at Arsenal for them to be disregarded in such a manner so early on in the season. It goes without saying that Manchester City and Liverpool are streets ahead of the rest of the league. However, those odds give you an idea of the kind of task that Emery has on his hands to get the Gunners back to being genuine challengers for the Premier League title.
How can he change it?
For a start, Emery needs to work out what his best team is. Considering that the Spaniard has been there for over a year now, that sounds like a pretty frightening statement. However, Emery took over a team in disarray and has, to his credit, cleared a fair bit of deadwood from the team. Now, he needs to pick players that he can trust to do the basics right.
The fact that he signed David Luiz means he is confident in his ability and is likely to stick with him throughout the entire campaign. Perhaps he could deploy the Brazilian in front of the defence? After all, it worked at Chelsea (up to a point). Ultimately, Arsenal’s games this year will be won and lost in the final third of the opponent’s half. With the defence looking as frail as ever, the Gunners are going to have to definitively outscore teams because clean sheets may well come at a premium in the upcoming campaign. To be fair to Emery though, he has a good track record of learning from his mistakes so to discount him would be harsh. So, where will Arsenal be after Christmas? Only time will tell.